We had heard about the virus. The knowledge about it was starting to spread…it was starting to spread. Our trip to Yuma, Arizona was one that was on the books. We were very excited to reconnect with our friend and music brother, Grant Baetz, who had just relocated to the desert not too long ago. Do we stay or do we go?
It was our first trip to Yuma and our first trip in our renovated vintage camper and van. We were going to give it a try and see how far it would get us. The renovation wasn’t quite done. A few inside lights of the camper weren’t fully functioning. There were details that we knew weren’t done…but we went anyway. We had time to figure out the details later, for now the road was calling and we were going.We left March 3rd.
Together my family makes 5 of us, Abileen (11 years old at the time), Rockwell (2), Aaron, my husband and road captain and we mustn’t forget Mango, our traveling cat. We sardine into our travel rig, hug Papa and hit the gas pedal.
Right out of Des Moines we hear a thump at the back of the van, then “clunk, clunk, clunk”. The sound is not good and the feeling I have is worse. I army crawl over all of our things in the back of our very large van and see that the back tail light has completely flown off, is now dangling by the wiring and whipping in the wind. We pull over and encounter our first road repair. It didn’t take us very long, did it? But luckily we have duct tape and are prepared for anything. We tape that light up and in just minutes we are laughing and back on the road.
Traveling with kids is hugely challenging, especially little ones. There was so much we would be learning along this trip and our travels. We rolled all the way to North Platte, NE and found a cold little place to park along a lake, next to the interstate. It was cold but we bundled up, turned on the space heater and did the best we could. The next morning everything was frozen but we loosened up and began again. And we were hitting the edge of Colorado before we knew it.
I can’t say I was feeling too confident. Everything felt like a threat. My energy level was down due to being sick right before we left and it was still hanging around. I couldn’t get full breaths and was very tired. (Covid?) I couldn’t wait to get to the desert and out of the cold! One mile at a time.
We stopped at the Welcome Center in Colorado, found a teepee shelter and got out our lunch. As the kids were finishing up, Aaron and I were really contemplating, “Can we even do this?” Are we seriously going to continue? It was in question for sure! There was some serious health threats on the horizon, do we have what it takes to traverse this adventure? So many thoughts were running through our minds!
I took a little walk with Rockwell so he could burn off some energy before getting back into his car seat, and I saw it there on the ground as a little message for me. It was an old key card to a hotel room. I picked it up and there was literally an arrow pointing west that said, Journey. Onward.
Ok, universe…I will follow. This was the day Rockwell screamed loud and long before his nap. He also threw up into my hands when a watermelon seed stuck in his throat and car sickness combined. I looked over at my daughter and I saw her very grossed out with a new level of respect in her eye when I caught the throw up. Yeah, this is what Mom’s do.
A moment of peace passed through the van as Rockwell finally fell asleep and as my eyes wandered to the terrain we were passing I saw a white buffalo in a herd. The white buffalo is an omen of unity, hope and positive transformation, another sign to keep going.
We made it to an RV park, right outside of Colorado Springs in Falcon. You could see the Mountains. I hadn’t seen these Mountains in years. My God, are they breathtaking! The RV park was run down and full of full timers and worked just fine as a parking spot for the night.
In the morning the mountains gleamed purple, the sky widened and the sun was rising. It was a new day.
We headed straight to the popular attraction, Garden of the Gods. Here, we encountered our first hesitations in public. People from everywhere, just checking out the place like everything was normal, but no one felt like this was normal. We breezed through the visitor center and gift shop and kept our distance from everyone and it was off season so this wasn’t too hard.
The visitor center had hand sanitizer out and no one was touching anything. (This whole trip I couldn’t find any hand sanitizer!) It made it difficult because no one knew what to think about this new level of social uncomfortableness. We soon found our way to the walking paths and the Kissing Camels rock formations. We spotted a blue bird that was hanging around us and we claimed that it was Grandma’s spirit giving us well wishes! Continue on!
Navigating the terrain with our van and trailer combo was going well and we were thankful for our little rigs ability to sail over Mountain passes. Our most favorite campsite this whole trip would be found in Salida. At this RV resort we had open picking for our site, we were able to remotely reserve and saw no one while we were there. We camped right beside the Arkansas River. This stay would inspire a song out of Aaron that will be released on our upcoming album. We did end up going into Salida to the grocery store and to dinner at a burger place. This is one of the last times we would eat inside a restaurant. We lingered at this campsite the next day, playing, enjoying the river, the sunshine. This was a hard place to leave.
Pushing off we went a bit too far and found ourselves near Pagosa Springs with nowhere to park…at night. It was 30 degrees. We needed electricity! This was another remedy that we would make sure to have with us the next trip, a generator, power whenever we needed it. This night we needed an electric hook up, and just in the nick of time I found the only open RV park in the area. We plugged in got warm and waited for another day to begin.
Making memories is hard work! By this time we were unorganized, tired but still going (this would become an ongoing theme!) The 4 Corners and the Grand Canyon were on our agenda for the day.
We drove to one of the most surreal places I have ever been, a part of the country where I had never been. To see so far in every direction, to see clearly the vanishing point, to experience land and more land stretching into the horizon; it felt like another planet. Where have we landed? We took the mandatory picture on the 4 corners spot and bought a tiny dream catcher at one of the booths.
Onward to the Grand Canyon! This place! I have always wanted to experience the Grand Canyon! We rolled in an hour or two before sunset and went straight to the edge. We had to see this! But we only had enough phone battery to take just a few photos. We snapped the shots and freaked out over the enormousness of this place. It is so large that your mind has a hard time putting it all together. It really is that magnificent! We did climb the lookout tower but our enjoyment was overpowered by our close proximity to people and our hunger kicking in.
I had made a reservation at one of the campsites and we found our parking spot. I promised the kids a warm dinner that night, but that wasn’t happening – so cold! So the next morning I made bacon, eggs, toast and fruit and we were off to the right start. Still cold! This whole trip, Aaron and I both will never forget not having any hot coffee, plenty of luke warm, cold coffee though!
We went to the official visitor center and saw the canyon from the edge again. Way more people visiting from all over the globe were there. The virus was on our minds the most here. This is where we began to see people wearing masks and social distancing was happening. Asking someone to take our picture by the sign was now strange. It was also cold and a bit drizzly. It was time to go and all I knew was I didn’t get enough time in this sacred place and I would be back.
We headed south, we were Yuma bound and Grant was waiting for us!
The Saguaro Cacti are the first indication that you have made it to the Sonoran Desert. We were beyond excited to see these rare beauties up close. We were getting close. The temperature was warming up. We were almost there.
Our Route, Pt. 1
Mar. 3 – North Platte, NE
Mar. 4 – Falcon, CO
Mar. 5 – Salida, CO
Mar. 6 – Pagosa Springs, CO
Mar. 7 – Grand Canyon, AZ
by Kat Darling
"In That Year, 2020" is a flashback blog series that I am writing documenting our travels through the Western part of the United States during the Covid 19 Pandemic. I am collecting these stories for my children, the road warriors and anyone who has lived through this crazy time. Thanks for reading! - Kat Darling